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CNN Election Day In America Continued; Voters Hitting Polls In Critical Elections; High-Stakes Runoff Races To Decide Control Of The Senate; Trump Turns Up Heat On Pence Ahead Of Electoral Vote Count. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 5, 2021 - 11:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar and this is CNN's special live coverage of a pivotal 48 hours in American history when Georgia voters will determine whether Democrats control all the levers of power in Washington and when Republican lawmakers will take the extraordinary step of trying to overturn the will of the voters.

We begin in Georgia where voters are hitting the polls in two runoff races that will decide who will control the Senate.

If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock win both of these races. They pick up two seats and regain control of the Senate for Democrats. They have 50 senators. Democrats did match in the balance of power with Republicans if this happens. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would then be able to break any tie.

If Republicans incumbent David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler win just one of these races, the Republicans would keep control of the Senate by a slim margin. And one indicator just how important today is, the amount of money that has been thrown in, more than half a billion dollars.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman is at a polling place in Fulton County, the most populous county in Georgia. And Gary, just tell us what it's like there at the polls.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I can tell you here in this county there are 254 polling places. And 253 of them, everything is going very smoothly so far. And this, The Cathedral of St. Philip in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, this is the 254th. And we've been here all day.

So, I can tell you firsthand that everything is going smoothly here also. When the day started, that the polls open at 7:00 a.m. sharp, there was a line of about 50 people rushing in to vote. It's been relatively quiet since then. That's the same at most of the other precincts but don't think that means that people aren't interested in voting or that they're apathetic.

But contrary what's happening in this day and age, what's likely to happen basically for the rest of our voting life, is it's much easier to vote early. For example, here in Fulton County, there were 15 days to vote early. So, if you had a choice of coming today, you can only go to one precinct. Today, the precinct you're assigned to, people come in here and they are told, this is not your precinct, you have to go somewhere else. But for early voting, you can go anywhere in the county. So, for example, here in Fulton County, there were 30 places where you can early vote. You can go to any one of them as long as you live in Fulton County.

So, it's far easier to vote early and because of that, there was a huge turnout for early voting throughout Georgia and here in Fulton County. For example, 390,000 people. That is the number of people who voted early.

And to put that in some kind of perspective, in the presidential election in November where there was intense interest obviously about 524,000 people voted total, not just early, total. It started at 390,000 today and you'll have more people voting so you're having numbers that are comparable to the November election.

Statewide, Brianna, 3 million people voted early. To give you an idea about that, the record before that for a runoff election - runoff Senate election in the state of Georgia was 2.1 million total not just early voting. So, you can see even though there are not long waits, for some people here right now but they're not long waits, so many people voted early. That this will be a record runoff Senate election turn out here in the state of Georgia.

Brianna, the one more thing I want to tell you, the polls close at 7:00 p.m. And it's expected as soon as the polls close, the early votes and the votes today will all be counted together. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Gary, thank you. Some intense interest there in Georgia.

So, let's talk more now about why these two Senate races are so important for the balance of power in Washington. We have CNN's congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly here with us to talk about this. Tell us, Phil, where the Senate stands right now and how this may change tonight.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, let's take a step back first. When you go back in the November, where obviously the headline coming out of Georgia was Joe Biden became the first president to win the state of Georgia from the Democratic Party in 28 years. But dig a little bit beneath that where two the Senate races were also playing out.

The Republicans actually outran Donald Trump. David Perdue outran Donald Trump by more than 90,000 votes. However, falling just short of the 50 percent threshold ending up in a runoff. If you counted the votes together of the Republican candidates in the other runoff in the Democratic candidates, again, Republicans outrunning the Democrats. This is why Republicans feel like, well we may have flipped blue on the presidential side, they believe they still have an advantage. Georgia's DNA is still a red state.


Now, depending on what happens tonight, well if you want to know why all eyes are on the state of Georgia, Brianna, you just laid it out. Everything you see in this map is filled in red or blue. These are races that have already been called for 2020. You'll see right now there is one that is still in gray. And there are two seats there. Those two seats, well 50 to 48.

If Democrats pick up both as you noted, Democrats will have the majority in the Senate. Chuck Schumer will be the majority leader in the Senate with Kamala Harris serving as the tie breaker. If Republicans pick up just one or both, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

That is why all eyes are on the state right now. That is why everybody recognizes the importance of this. That is why you've seen Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Vice President Pence, President Trump, all congregating in the state, recognizing the states here not just necessarily for these two races but for the entirety of Washington and Joe Biden's governing agenda come January 20th.

KEILAR: And are there any particular counties that you're going to be keeping a close eye on, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Yes, there really are. And I think look, Gary makes a great point. There's obviously enthusiasm here we've never seen before in a runoff in the state of Georgia for Senate races. However, it's not necessarily apples-to-apples comparison.

What we do know though is this isn't about candidates flipping districts, candidates flipping counties perhaps the other side had won for a long period of time. It's about running up their margins in their crucial counties and keeping on the margins of others.

So, for that, if you're a Democrat, if you're Raphael Warnock or Jon Ossoff, you want to try and replicate what Joe Biden did here. Cobb County push out of metro Atlanta into the suburbs. This used to be a Republican are. Jon Ossoff won it handily. Handily on November 3rd.

However, look back this 2014. David Perdue won it handily. That's how dramatic the shift has been. But I think something to keep in mind here when you look at Cobb County and scroll over a little bit to Gwinnett County, look at the presidential. Joe Biden outran Jon Ossoff in this county by 2.3 points.

That is what Jon Ossoff is trying to match this time around. It's not just in Cobb. It's also over in Gwinnett. Obviously, Democrats, Brianna, want to run up big margins here. That is the ticket to unlocking the state for both of these races.

If you're a Republican, if you're David Perdue, if you're Kelly Loeffler, you're looking here first. You're looking at Cherokee County. This is a Republican strong hold. You look at the presidential margin here. I'll flip down to David Perdue's race. He outran President Trump in Cherokee County. There are a lot of Republican votes here and Republicans want to run it up here. Something else to keep an eye on, Donald Trump was here. Donald Trump was in Whitfield County, home of Dalton not a huge amount of vote here but it underscores the strategy for Republicans. If you can run up margins, if you can runup margins in the northern part of the state right here, this is Republican country. This is where President Trump ran up huge vote. They need Trump vote. They need Trump support. That's the ticket for Republicans to win again in Georgia. That's what they're hoping for. Obviously, we'll start seeing results in a couple of hours.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be keeping an eye as you will be, Phil. Thank you so much.

Let's talk now with David Chalian, our CNN political director. The stakes here, David, they're huge in Georgia. They're huge for the country. And the polls will be closing at 7:00 p.m. as Phil noted. So, when are we going to find out results?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's a great question. It took days in the presidential race, you'll recall in November and it actually took several days to even learn in the Ossoff/Perdue Senate race, Brianna. That it was going to a runoff, right at that Perdue was not going to get above that 50 percent threshold.

And largely why? Well, because of what Gary Tuchman was explaining about the way in which we vote in America in the midst of a pandemic. Which is there is a lot of mail vote to count.

And so, we expect maybe a million mail ballots, lots of counties were able to process that in advance of today to get that going and counted. We'll see. We hear from election officials that November was a big sort of test run, if you will, at the counting process and perhaps it'll move a little more quickly also not as many races on the ballot but we will start to see votes come in after the polls close at 7:00 p.m.

But this could take a while, I would urge what we urged back in November, patience. This could take a while, especially if it's really close, Brianna, and you need to get each one of those mail ballots counted and tabulated to actually know which way the race will go.

KEILAR: And this is really like the tale of two administrations is what this will determine. If Democrats manage to capture both seats and win control of the Senate, it's going to be a different situation than if the Republicans were able to hold on to at least one of these seats. How might this shape the first 100 days of the Biden administration?

CHALIAN: It's a good question. Some ways it'll be different depending which party controls. Other ways I think we're still living in a world with a closely divided Senate no matter how today goes.

So, to your point, first 100 days. If Democrats control the Senate, you know they control the gavels and the committees. They can set the agenda. Obviously, getting the president-elect, then President Biden's cabinet nominees confirmed and getting judicial appointments confirmed.


Things like that having control and Schumer as the majority leader can make a real impact and difference. But in terms of the legislative agenda of Joe Biden whether it is a 50/50 Senate, controlled by the Democrats due to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Harris, or if it's a 52/48 McConnell controlled Republican majority. That's still a really closely divided Senate. And when you need 60 votes to get a lot of big legislative agenda items through, you're still going to have to negotiate your way through a coalition, no matter who controls the Senate.

And so, I don't think just -- I don't think Democrats should take away that if they win both these seats tonight, all of a sudden Joe Biden's entire presidential agenda is going to become so much more progressive than it otherwise would have been if it wasn't. We know that both the House and the Senate are so narrowly divided, building coalitions is going to be the critical component to Joe Biden's success as president legislatively.

KEILAR: That's a very good point. David Chalian, thank you so much for explaining all of that to us.

And next, the president turns up the heat on his vice president ahead of tomorrow's electoral count in Congress, Electoral College count in Congress. So, hear what happened behind closed doors.

Plus, was the president's call with Georgia election officials, illegal? My next guest says it was.

And a human disaster in California. As states see new surges in COVID hospitalizations, ambulances in California are being told to leave some people behind.



KEILAR: President Trump keeping up his unfounded assault on the election results during a campaign stop in Georgia. He was there to support the two Republican Senate candidates in today's runoff races but much of the speech centered on the Georgia results from November and his false claims that the vote was rigged.

The president has successfully pressured dozens of members of the Senate and House to declare that they will object to the Electoral College results tomorrow. But last night, President Trump turned that spotlight on Vice President Mike Pence.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope Mike Pence comes through for us. I have to tell you. I hope that our great vice president, our great vice president comes through for us. He's a great guy. Of course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much. No, Mike is a great guy.


KEILAR: Joining me now, we have CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel and Norm Eisen, former White House ethics czar under President Obama. He's a special fellow at the Brookings Institution and outside counsel for the nonprofit Voter Protection Program.

Norm, explain to us, because the president was sort of laying it out there that he's relying on the vice president. Explain to us the vice president's role and what power he has or does not have to stop the count or overturn the vote like President Trump is suggesting.

NORMAN EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR: Brianna, thanks for having me back. The vice president has no substantive role at all in the determination of Electoral College votes. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act, the vice president's role is purely ministerial. He opens the envelopes.

You know, there's the saying in Washington D.C. I'm not a potted plant. He is a potted plant. It is symbolic. It is ceremonial. What the president was calling on him to do last night at the president's rally was just as illegal as the president's call to the Georgia secretary of state. It would be against the law.

KEILAR: So, Trump actually just tweeted moments ago, Norm, that quote, "The VP has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors." What's your reaction to that?

EISEN: Like so much that President Trump says when it comes to the facts and, particularly when it comes to the law, you can take that tweet and assume the exact opposite is probably the truth. In this case, it is.

The Electoral Count Act, which was passed to deal with just these kinds of questions when they arose back in the 19th century, it expressly says, the vice president only presides the decisions, all of the decisions are reserved to Congress. If there's an objection, it has to be signed by at least one member of the House and at least one member of the Senate. And then they go back to the House and the Senate to vote.

Here, under the law, when you have properly certified slates from the states as we do, unless both Houses agree to knock them out, they count. That's the law of the land. And so, totally false that the vice president can do anything. Frankly, based on what we know, Congress is not going to do anything. This is a fore gone conclusion. Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States.

KEILAR: OK. So, real quick then what happens if Pence refuses to do his job?

EISEN: Well, the -- of course, I saw this when I had the privilege to be on the floor of the Senate for the impeachment trial. There is a parliamentarian who will be seated in the immediate vicinity of the vice president. [11:20:01]

There will be a parliamentary point of order and the vice president's behavior will be ruled out of order. If he refuses to comply even then, those questions are resolved usually by a vote of the House and the Senate.

We know there are the votes here in both bodies by a majority of each body to count these slates. So, in the end of the day, it's not going to work. And the only question is, does the vice president want to behave as illegally as his boss when it is asking when it comes to these slates and as illegally as the president has done elsewhere. I don't think he's going to do that. I hope he's not going to do it.

KEILAR: I mean, Jamie, we can't really overstate the pressure that the vice president is under. According to "The New York Times," "Mr. Trump," this is a quote, "had directly pressed Mr. Pence to find an alternative to certifying Mr. Biden's win, such as preventing him from having 270 electoral votes and letting the election be thrown to the House to decide." And you're hearing from Republicans. What are you hearing from them?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Correct. So, first of all, just to talk about that pressure for a moment. We just heard the pressure that he can put on people in that phone call with the Georgians.

Here's what I'm told. Let's just put it flatly. There is no secret envelope where suddenly Mike Pence can say, Donald Trump is president, as Norm said.

But this is from two senior Republicans that I just spoke to on the Hill. Quote, "Pence can't do anything. His role is ceremonial." As norm just said. "He does not have the power to overturn the election, and the parliamentarians have explained this."

From a second Republican, "At most he can say something to play up to Trump, but he can't change the outcome. He is just sitting in the chair."

So, look, Brianna, Donald Trump seems intent on a scorched earth policy here to burn Washington down on the way out the door. I think the real question for Mike Pence is, which side is he going to be on? Is he simply going to carry out his ceremonial job smoothly, to the letter, or is he going to try to play up to Trump in some way?

KEILAER: Will he be loyal to himself and sort of what he has professed is his beliefs as a politician or is he going to be loyal to Trump maybe as he considers the political ramifications of not. And, you know, we're seeing that with a lot of senators, Jamie, playing out. Before Trump took the stage last night, Senator Kelly Loeffler declared for the first time that she would object to the Electoral College count. Is this something that she had to do politically in order to have a chance at prevailing in the Senate runoff election?

GANGEL: I guess the question is, do any of them have to do it? They think they have to do it. She thinks she has to do it. Ted Cruz thinks he has to do it. Hawley thinks he has to do it.

What I don't understand is this. Donald Trump is clearly leaving office dividing the Republican Party in two. Which side do they want to be on? And what I think we've all seen the last four years but clearly some of these Republicans did not get the message. Donald Trump doesn't care about them. He's not going to give them the nod in 2024. He cares about himself. And if they have not learned that lesson by now, I -- I don't know what to say. It's -- it is just remarkable.

KEILAR: It is some kind of choice that they are making today. Jamie Gangel, Norm, thank you so much. It's great to see both of you. Really enjoyed that discussion.

A pharmacist is accused of sabotaging vaccines and police say he's a conspiracy theorist.

Plus, we're going to take you to California where the crisis has grown out of control and health care is being rationed. And my next guest is a doctor and says it's time to think about delaying the second vaccine dose.



KEILAR: Police say that a Wisconsin pharmacist accused of sabotaging vaccines is a self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist. Steven Brandenburg was arrested for deliberately removing dozens of vials of the Moderna vaccine from the hospital's refrigerator.

CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard is following this story closely. Jacqueline?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Brianna, this incident involves 57 vials of vaccines. That's more than 500 doses that police say were left out of cold storage and sabotaged. Police say pharmacist Steven Brandenburg is a conspiracy theorist allegedly telling them that he believed the vaccines would change people's DNA. Brandenburg has appeared virtually in court.